by Bob Wonders
During my recent visit to the Miami International Boat Show I knew well in advance that there was one display I had no intention of missing – that of the legendary Cigarette Racing Team. I was not to be disappointed!
39 Cigarette Top Gun
With its 2008 model line-up on display, the Cigarette Racing Team exhibit could only be termed ‘stunning.’
Coincidentally, while I was visiting the fabulous display, the first Cigarette ordered for ‘down under’, a 39’ Top Fish, was being unloaded in Australia for authorised dealer, the Chapman Marine Group.
More about that later.
The magnificent Marauder, 50-feet of style and brute power. - Cigarette Racing Team - the legend lives on
In addition to seeing first hand the amazing line-up of muscle boats, I was able to catch up with an old friend, Mark Belisle, a prominent US industry identity, now responsible for Cigarette international sales, and meet the delightful and highly efficient Erika Braver, daughter of company CEO (and owner) Skip Braver.
Skip Braver, CEO (and owner) of the Cigarette Racing Team, acquired the company in 2002. - Cigarette Racing Team - the legend lives on
Describing some of the Cigarette Racing Team’s incredible models in a few words is no easy task; these are boats demanding close-up inspection.
Take for instance the absolutely awesome 50’ Marauder, a boat the company claims 'makes the loudest and boldest statement' from the team.
Loudest? No argument here.
Not with triple, staggered 1075hp SCi MerCruiser engines capable of driving this incredible machine at better than 160km/hr (100mph-plus).
For those demanding similar performance, but more inclined to seek the comforts of home as well, Cigarette introduced the 49’ Grand Sport, two-feet wider in the beam than the Marauder and complete with a cabin area featuring bird’s eye maple cabinetry, a wet bar, LCD television, fully enclosed head with hot water and shower recess.
Among the better known models from the Cigarette Racing Team range, the 39 Top Gun Unlimited and the 38’ Top Gun attracted hordes of admirers.
And, as promised, there was the 39’ Top Fish, now in the hands of the Chapman Marine Group and the boat CEO Mark Chapman hopes will be the first of several ‘Smokin’ Ciggies’ set to power across Australian waterways.
Bud Lorow, a veteran US test driver, summed up the 39’ Top Fish; 'I’ve been in a lot of fish boats, but aboard this one the ride is incredible,' he said.
A neat 39’ (11.88-metres) in length with a 10’ (3.04-metres) beam, the Top Fish is a centre console design with seating capacity for eight.
The company displayed two of the model at Miami, both triple outboard rigs, one with three of Mercury Marine’s all-new 350hp Verado engines, the other with the slightly smaller 300hp Verado units (the same as the Chapman Marine Group boat).
Apart from the obvious attraction which is magnificently engineered and astonishingly gorgeous boats, what makes Cigarette stand out is probably the hype and even myths surrounding the company.
Some years ago I first visited the then production facility on North East 188th Street, North Miami Beach, a dusty, unimpressive stretch of road later to become part of performance boating folklore as ‘Thunderboat Alley.' (Or Thunderboat Row, depending on who tells the story).
The company was established by the larger-than-life Don Aronow, but only after he had sold Formula, Donzi and Magnum Marine, all companies operating in the shadows of each other along Thunderboat Alley.
Aronow built his first Cigarette boats with help from a close friend, the late Elton Carey.
From the early days, Cigarette had a triumphant and a tragic link with Australia.
The triumph was with Victorian Peter Dean, who driving ‘Slingshot’ a 40-foot Cigarette raced to 11 successive offshore victories and won seven Australian Class I titles, a feat recently matched by Bill Barry-Cotter.
Tragedy, of course, came when another Cigarette, a 32-footer, came to grief in a race off Sydney when brothers Val and Paul Carr were killed in what was recognised as the sport’s first multiple fatality.
It’s all part and parcel of the legend and folklore that has become attached to the Cigarette Racing Team.
Thunderboat Alley is now more, the street now occupied by high rise apartments and penthouses for the wealthy.
The Cigarette Racing Team has since moved into new premises at the strangely-named Opa Locka, further north in the Miami region.
I have not yet seen the new plant, which I’m told is both highly efficient and state-of-the-art, but that’s something I’ll hope to remedy before too long.
Skip Braver must feel pretty pleased with himself – he not only owns a successful boat manufacturer, he owns the fabled Cigarette Racing Team, Inc.